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Nestor Makhno

Nestor Makhno

Nestor Makhno, the son of peasants, was born in Hulyai-Pole, Ukraine, on 27th October 1889. His father died the following year and at the age of seven he was put to work tending cows and sheep for local peasants. Later he found employment as a farm labourer.

In 1906, at the age of seventeen, Makhno joined an anarchist group and became involved in terrorist activities. Two years later he was arrested and sentenced to death but was reprieved because of his youth and imprisoned in Butyrki Prison in Moscow.

Makhno was initially placed in irons or in solitary confinement. Later he shared a cell with an older, more experienced anarchist named Peter Arshinov, who had been imprisoned for smuggling arms from Austria. Over the next few years he taught him about the libertarian doctrine that had been developed by Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin.

Makhno was released from prison after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. Makhno later recalled: "The February Revolution of 1917 opened the gates of all Russian prisons for political prisoners. There can be no doubt this was mainly brought about by armed workers and peasants taking to the streets, some in their blue smocks, others in grey military overcoats. These revolutionary workers demanded an immediate amnesty as the first conquest of the Revolution.... The tsarist government of Russia, based on the landowning aristocracy, had walled up these political prisoners in damp dungeons with the aim of depriving the labouring classes of their advanced elements and destroying their means of denouncing the iniquities of the regime. Now these workers and peasants, fighters against the aristocracy, again found themselves free. And I was one of them."

Makhno returned to his native village and assumed a leading role in community affairs. In August 1917 he was elected as chairman of the Hulyai-Pole Soviet of Workers' and Peasants. He now recruited a band of armed men and set about expropriating the estates of the neighboring gentry and distributing the land to the peasants. After the Russian Revolution he became one of the leaders in the area.

After the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the German Army marched into the Ukraine. His band of partisans was too weak to offer effective resistance and Makhno was forced to go into hiding. He arrived in Moscow in June 1918. Makhno had a meeting with his hero, Peter Kropotkin, who had arrived in Russia from his long-period in exile.

Makhno also had a meeting with Lenin in the Kremlin. Lenin explained his opposition to anarchists. "The majority of anarchists think and write about the future without understanding the present. That is what divides us Communists from them... But I think that you, comrade, have a realistic attitude towards the burning evils of the time. If only one-third of the anarchist-communists were like you, we Communists would be ready, under certain well-known conditions, to join with them in working towards a free organization of producers." Makhno answered that the anarchists were not utopian dreamers but realistic men of action.

Makhno returned to the Ukraine in July 1918. The area was still occupied by Austrian troops that had installed a puppet ruler, Pavlo Skoropadskyi. Makhno launched a series of raids against the government and the manors of the nobility. As Paul Avrich has pointed out: "Previously independent guerrilla bands accepted Makhno's command and rallied behind his black banner. Villagers provided food and fresh horses, enabling the Makhnovists to travel forty or fifty miles a day with little difficulty. Turning up quite suddenly where least expected, they would attack the gentry and military garrisons, then vanish as quickly as they had come. In captured uniforms they infiltrated the enemy's ranks to learn their plans or to open fire at point-blank range. On one occasion, Makhno and his retinue, masquerading as Hetmanite guardsmen, gained entry to a landowner's ball and fell upon the guests in the midst of their festivities. When cornered, the Makhnovists would bury their weapons, make their way singly back to their villages, and take up work in the fields, awaiting a signal to unearth a new cache of arms and spring up again in an unexpected quarter."

Isaac Babel, a political commissar in the Red Army in the Ukraine wrote: "Makhno was as protean as nature herself. Haycarts deployed in battle array take towns, a wedding procession approaching the headquarters of a district executive committee suddenly opens a concentrated fire, a little priest, waving above him the black flag of anarchy, orders the authorities to serve up the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, wine and music."

Victor Serge argued: "Nestor Makhno, boozing, swashbuckling, disorderly and idealistic, proved himself to be a born strategist of unsurpassed ability. The number of soldiers under his command ran at times into several tens of thousands. His arms he took from the enemy. Sometimes his insurgents marched into battle with one rifle for every two or three men: a rifle which, if any soldier fell, would pass at once from his still-dying hands into those of his alive and waiting neighbour."

Makhno always had a large black flag, the symbol of anarchy, at the head of his army, embroidered with the slogans "Liberty or Death" and "the Land to the Peasants, the Factories to the Workers". Makhno later told Emma Goldman that his objective was to establish a libertarian society in the south that would serve as a model for the whole of Russia. When he set-up his first commune near Pokrovskoye, he named it in honour of Rosa Luxemburg.

In September 1918, after defeating a large force of Austrians at the village of Dibrivki, his men gave him the title, "little father". Two months later the First World War came to an end and all foreign troops left Russia. Pavlo Skoropadskyi was removed from power in an uprising led by Symon Petliura. With the support of the Red Army, Makhno was able to force Petliura into exile.

According to Emma Goldman, she was told by a person living in the Ukraine that "there grew up among the country folk the belief that Makhno was invincible because he had never been wounded during all the years of warfare in spite of his practice of always personally leading every charge."

In 1919, Nestor Makhno married Agafya Kuzmenko, a former elementary schoolteacher (1892-1978), who also served as one of his aides. They had one daughter, Yelena. Two of Makhno's brothers were members of his army before being captured in battle and executed by firing squad.

A pact for joint military action against General Anton Denikin and his White Army was signed in March 1919. However, the Bolsheviks did not trust the anarchists and two months later two Cheka agents sent to assassinate Makhno were caught and executed. Leon Trotsky, commander-in-chief of the Bolsheviks forces, ordered the arrest of Makhno and sent in troops to Hulyai-Pole dissolve the agricultural communes set up by the Makhnovists. With Makhno's power undermined, a few days later, Denikin forces arrived and completed the job, liquidating the local soviets as well.

On 26th September 1919, Makhno launched a successful counterattack at the village of Peregonovka, cutting Denikin's supply lines. This was followed by a new offensive by the Red Army and Denikin's White Army was forced to retreat to the shores of the Black Sea.

Leon Trotsky now turned to dealing with the anarchists and outlawed the Makhnovists. According to the author of Anarchist Portraits (1995): "There ensued eight months of bitter struggle, with losses heavy on both sides. A severe typhus epidemic augmented the toll of victims. Badly outnumbered, Makhno's partisans avoided pitched battles and relied on the guerrilla tactics they had perfected in more than two years of civil war."

A truce was called in October 1920, when General Peter Wrangel and his White Army launched a major offensive in the Ukraine. Trotsky offered to release all anarchists in Russian prison in return for joint military action against Wrangel. However, once the Red Army made sufficient gains to ensure victory in the Civil War, the Makhnovists were once again outlawed. On 25th November, 1920, Makhno's commanders in the Crimea, who had just defeated Wrangel's forces, were seized by the Red Army and executed.

Leon Trotsky now gave orders for an attack on Makhno's headquarters in Hulyai-Pole. Most of his staff were captured and shot but Makhno managed to escape with the remnant of his army. After wandering over the Ukraine for nearly a year, Makhno, suffering from unhealed wounds, crossed the Dniester River into Rumania where he was arrested and interned. He escaped to Poland but was once again arrested and imprisoned in Danzig. Eventually, aided by Alexander Berkman, he was allowed to move to Paris.

Leon Trotsky attempted to explain why he had given orders for Makhno to be assassinated: "Makhno... was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer... Makhno created a cavalry of peasants who supplied their own horses. They were not downtrodden village poor whom the October Revolution first awakened, but the strong and well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had. The anarchist ideas of Makhno (the ignoring of the State, non-recognition of the central power) corresponded to the spirit of the kulak cavalry as nothing else could."

In 1926 Makhno joined forces broke with Peter Arshinov to publish their controversial Organizational Platform, which called for a General Union of Anarchists. This was opposed by Vsevolod Volin, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Sébastien Faure and Rudolf Rocker, who argued that the idea of a central committee clashed with the basic anarchist principle of local organisation.

Nestor Makhno was unhappy in Paris saying he hated the "poison" of big cities, and missed the landscape of Hulyai-Pole. According to Alexander Berkman he talked of returning home and "taking up the struggle for liberty and social justice." However, as Paul Avrich points out that he "lived his remaining years in obscurity, poverty, and disease, an Antaeus cut off from the soil that might have replenished his strength."

Nestor Makhno died of tuberculosis on 6th July 1935.

An Anarchist schoolmaster and former political prisoner, named Nestor Makhno, opened up guerrilla warfare at Gulai-Polye, with fifteen men at his side; these attacked German sentries to obtain weapons. Later on, Makhno was to form whole armies. The Germans repressed these movements with the utmost vigour, executing prisoners en masse and burning down villages; but it was all too much for them.

After dinner I had two hours with Denikin. In his opinion everything was going splendidly. The possibility of a sudden change in our luck seemed to him to be out of the question. He thought the taking of Moscow was only a question of time, and that the demoralized and weakened enemy could not make a stand against us.

At this point his aide-de-camp brought him a telegram: "It is from General Dragomirov," said Denikin when he had read it. "He says that the General Staff of the Red Army which he had been attacking want to surrender. But General Dragomirov is demanding that this Army should first attack the flank of the other Red Army which is stationed close by."

I drew his attention to the movements of the brigand Makhno and his rebels, for they were threatening our rear.

"Oh, that is not serious! We will finish him off in the twinkling of an eye."

As I listened to him talking, my mind filled with doubt and apprehension.

Nestor Makhno, boozing, swashbuckling, disorderly and idealistic, proved himself to be a born strategist of unsurpassed ability. Sometimes his insurgents marched into battle with one rifle for every two or three men: a rifle which, if any soldier fell, would pass at once from his still-dying hands into those of his alive and waiting neighbour.

Makhno received a command to transfer his troops to the Polish front. The order was plainly designed to draw the Insurgent Army away from its home territory, leaving it open to the establishment of Bolshevik rule. Makhno refused to budge. Trotsky, he said, wanted to replace Denikin's forces with the Red Army and the dispossessed landlords with political commissars. Having vowed to cleanse Russia of anarchism "with an iron broom,' a Trotsky replied by again outlawing the Makhnovists. There ensued eight months of bitter struggle, with losses heavy on both sides. Badly outnumbered, Makhno's partisans avoided pitched battles and relied on the guerrilla tactics they had perfected in more than two years of civil war.

Hostilities were broken off in October 1920, when Baron Wrangel, Denikin's successor in the south, launched a major offensive, striking northwards from the Crimea. Once more the Red Army enlisted Makhno's aid, in return for which the Communists agreed to an amnesty for all anarchists in Russian prisons and guaranteed the anarchists freedom of propaganda on condition that they refrain from calling for the overthrow of the Soviet government.

Barely a month later, however, the Red Army had made sufficient gains to ensure victory in the Civil War, and the Soviet leaders tore up their agreement with Makhno. Not only had the Makhnovists outlived their usefulness as a military partner, but as long as the bat'ko was at large the spirit of anarchism and the danger of a peasant rising would remain to haunt the Bolshevik regime. On November 25, 1920, Makhno's commanders in the Crimea, fresh from their victory over Wrangel, were seized by the Red Army and shot.

The next day, Trotsky ordered an attack on Makhno's headquarters in Gulyai-Polye, during which Makhno's staff were captured and imprisoned or shot on the spot. The bat'ko himself, however, together with a remnant of an army that had once numbered in the tens of thousands, managed to elude his pursuers. After wandering over the Ukraine for the better part of a year, the guerrilla leader, exhausted and suffering from unhealed wounds, crossed the Dniester River into Rumania and eventually found his way to Paris.

Anarchism is not merely a doctrine that deals with the social aspect of human life, in the narrow meaning with which the term is invested in political dictionaries and, at meetings, by our propagandist speakers: anarchism is also the study of human life in general.

Over the course of the elaboration of its overall world picture, anarchism has set itself a very specific task: to encompass the world in its entirety, sweeping aside all manner of obstacles, present and yet to come, which might be posed by bourgeois capitalist science and technology, with the aim of providing humanity with the most exhaustive possible explanation of existence in this world and of making the best possible fist of all the problems which may confront it. This approach should help humanity to develop consciousness of the anarchism that is, as far as I know, naturally inherent in us to the extent that humanity is continually being faced with partial manifestations thereof..

Theoretically, anarchism in our day is still regarded as weak, badly developed and even - some would say - often interpreted wrongly in many respects. However, its exponents - they say - have plenty to say about it: many are constantly prattling about it, militating actively and sometimes complaining of its lack of success (I imagine, in this last instance, that this attitude is prompted by the failure to devise, through research, the social wherewithal vital to anarchism if it is to gain a foothold in contemporary society).

In reality, wherever human life is to be found, anarchism is alive. On the other hand, it becomes accessible to the individual only where it boasts propagandists and militants, who have honestly and entirely severed their connections with the slave mentality of our age, something, by the way, that brings savage persecution down upon their heads. Such militants aspire to serve their beliefs unselfishly, without fear of uncovering unsuspected aspects in the course of their development, the better to digest them as they proceed, if need be, and in this way they pave the way for the success of the anarchist spirit over the spirit of submission.

As far as the question of defence of the revolution generally goes, I shall be relying upon my long experiences first-hand during the Russian revolution in Ukraine, in the course of that unequal, but decisive struggle waged by the revolutionary movement of the Ukrainian working people. Those experiences taught me, firstly, that the defence of the revolution is directly bound up with the revolution's offensive against the counter-revolution. Secondly, the growth and development of the forces for the defence of the revolution are at all times conditioned by the resistance of the counter-revolutionaries. And thirdly, what follows from the above, namely that revolutionary actions in the majority of cases are closely dependent on the political content, structure and organizational methods adopted by the armed revolutionary detachments, who are obliged to confront conventional, counter-revolutionary armies along a huge front.

In its fight against the counter-revolution, the Russian revolution at first began by organizing Red Guard detachments under the leadership of the bolsheviks. It was very quickly spotted the Red Guards failed to withstand the pressures from the organized counter-revolution, to be specific, the German, Austrian and Hungarian expeditionary corps, for the simple reason that, most of the time, they operated without any overall operational guide-lines. That is why the bolsheviks turned to the organization of a Red Army in the spring of 1918.

It was then that we issued the call to form "free battalions" of Ukrainian working people. It quickly transpired that the organization of the "free battalions" in the spring of 1918 was powerless to survive internal provocations of every sort, given that, without adequate vetting, political or social, it took in all volunteers provided only that they wanted to take up their weapons and fight. That was why the armed units established by that organization were treacherously delivered to the counter-revolutionaries. And this prevented it from seeing through its historical mission in the fight against the German, Austrian and Hungarian counter-revolution.

Your evaluation of the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921 is basically incorrect. The best, most sacrificing sailors were completely withdrawn from Kronstadt and played an important role at the fronts and in the local Soviets throughout the country. What remained was the grey mass with big pretensions, but without political education and unprepared for revolutionary sacrifice. The country was starving. The Kronstadters demanded privileges. The uprising was dictated by a desire to get privileged food rations.

No less erroneous is your estimate of Makhno. In himself he was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer. He became the concentration of the very tendencies which brought about the Kronstadt Uprising. They were not downtrodden village poor whom the October Revolution first awakened, but the strong and well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had.

The anarchist ideas of Makhno (the ignoring of the State, non-recognition of the central power) corresponded to the spirit of the kulak cavalry as nothing else could. I should add that the hatred of the city and the city worker on the part of the followers of Makhno was complemented by the militant anti-Semitism.


Nestor Makhno (Nazi Cold War)

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Nestor Ivanovych Makhno or Bat'ko ("Father") Makhno (Ukrainian: Нестор Іванович Махно, Russian: Не́стор Ива́нович Махно́) was a Ukrainian anarcho-communist revolutionary and the commander of an independent anarchist army in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War.

As commander of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, more commonly referred to as the Makhnovshchina or Black Army, Makhno led a guerrilla campaign during the Russian Civil War. He is also credited as the inventor of the tachanka, a horse-drawn platform mounting a heavy machine gun.


The Truth about Nestor Makhno

Nestor Makhno, for years the leader of the rebel peasantry of the Ukraina, died on July 25 in the Tenon Hospital after long months of illness. His remains were cremated in the Père-Lachaise cemetery, at Paris.

Nestor Makhno was one of the outstanding personalities of the Russian Revolution, a man remarkable in many regards. While still in his teens he became interested in the revolutionary movement and at 17 he was already an active member of an anarchist group in the Ukraina. In 1908 the Tsarist Government condemned him to death, but owing to his youth the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was incarcerated in the notorious Butirki Prison, at Moscow, one of the worst hells of the Russian penal system, where the naturally rebellious spirit of Makhno earned him frequent and severe punishment. In spite of it Nestor succeeded in turning his imprisonment to good account he spent his time in studying and improving the elementary education he had received as a boy. The February Revolution opened the doors of his prison, as it did for thousands of other victims of Tsardom.

Makhno returned to his native Ukraina and there devoted himself to the revolutionary enlightenment of the masses. A splendid organizer and effective agitator, his work speedily showed results. He became particularly popular among the southern peasantry. During the occupation of Ukraina by the German-Austrian forces, Makhno organized very successful guerrilla warfare against the invaders. From a little handful of armed men, who had to procure guns and ammunitions from the enemy, his faithful band constantly grew in numbers and strength, till at one time Makhno’s peasant army consisted of 40,000–60,000 men, including cavalry and artillery. A thorough Anarchist, Makhno waged war against all forces which sought to subject Ukraina to new tyranny and exploitation. For this reason [he fought] the Whites as well as the Bolsheviki when the latter attempted to establish an allegedly “revolutionary” despotism in the South. Makhno clearly distinguished between the interests of the revolution and of the masses as against those of Bolshevik Party rule. He and his povstantsi (rebel peasant) army had for their definite purpose to free Ukraina from the tyranny and government in any form, be it white or red. Makhnovstchina, as the Makhno peasant uprising in Ukraina was called, was a thoroughly libertarian revolutionary movement of the masses in the South of Russia, of utmost significance. Nestor Makhno was the heart and the spirit of that great movement. His great ability as a leader, his personal courage and almost reckless devotion to his anarchist ideal of liberation earned for him the trust, respect and admiration of the Ukrainian masses. His revolutionary integrity and unusual military judgment inspired his army to deeds of almost incredible heroism and self-sacrifice in behalf of the revolutionary cause. His followers christened him “Batko” Makhno (beloved little father), which was the highest expression of popular respect and affection.

But though Makho fought against the establishment of Bolshevik rule in the Ukraina, he never hesitated to come to the aid of the Bolsheviki when the interests of the revolution demanded it. Thus in 1919 the Makhno army practically saved Moscow from being taken by General Denikin when the latter had almost routed the Bolshevik forces. Again in 1920 it was Makhno and his povstantsi who helped in finally defeating Wrangel and his White armies.

The Bolsheviki always appealed to Makhno for aid whenever their own military forces failed to halt the advance of the White enemy. But in spite of being repeatedly saved from destruction by Makhnovtsi, the Bolsheviki continuously planned to annihilate Makhno and his army. True to the psychology of all despotism, the Bolsheviki Government could not tolerate the fact that a large part of Russia – practically the whole of Ukraina – refused to recognise the rule of the Bolsheviki. Fully knowing that Makhno was a true Anarchist who strove to liberate the south from every tyranny, and in spite of the great services done by Makhno’s army to the revolution, the Bolsheviki denounced both Makhno and his peasant followers as bandits and counter-revolutionists. They set a price on Makhno’s head, dead or alive, and even stooped to sending secret emissaries to Makhno’s camp to murder him.

Notwithstanding all the dangers and difficulties of that revolutionary period, and in spite of repeated Bolshevik treachery, Makhno continued for 4 years (1917–1921) loyally to serve the revolutionary cause. He had fought the German invaders and he continued his fight against every reactionary force which sought to subjugate the people of Ukraina, including the armies of Denikin, Skoropadsky, Petlura, Grigorief and others.

Whites as well as the Bolsheviki hated Makhno and his peasant army with a deadly and irreconcilable hatred. Justly so, for was not the very existence of the Makhno movement a challenge and a defiance to all governments and oppression? In the denunciation of Makhno the Bolsheviki went even further than the whites. Secret conspiracies and open military attacks failed to destroy Makhno and his followers, the Bolsheviki decided to kill him morally. It was they who FIRST SPREAD THE LIE that Makhno was a pogromshtchik, a Jew baiter, and that his army was guilty of pogroms against the Jews. But the people of Ukraina knew better than that. They knew that no Bolshevik general ever protected the Jews against pogroms with the energy and zeal of Makhno. They knew that Makhno was an Anarchist and internationalist, and that he was ruthless in suppressing the least sign of racial persecution. Some of his closest friends were Jews, and a number of well-known Russian-Jewish Anarchists were his most trusted advisors and members of the educational department of the Makhno army. It is true that occasional, though very rare cases of assaults on Jews had happened in the territory occupied by Makhno’s forces. But in every case it was proven that such excesses were committed by individual members of the army, and that Makhno was merciless in punishing such offenders. In this connection it is well to remember that the Bolshevik red Army was also not free from such excesses, yet no one would think of accusing the leaders of the Bolshevik army of encouraging pogroms. As to Makhno, he personally and publicly shot Grigorief, the chief of a White band of notorious pogromers, as an object lesson for his entire army and the entire people of Ukraina.

A true anarchist, a great revolutionary mass leader was lost to us by the death of Nestor Makhno. He died, poor, alone and almost deserted far away from the people he so loved and served so faithfully. But his spirit always remained with the masses of Russia, and with his last breath he confidently hoped that some day the oppressed, much-suffering people will rise in their might to sweep away forever the tyranny and despotism of Bolshevism.


Nestor Makhno - History

THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION

The Makhnovist movement was almost exclusively poor peasant in origin. The very existence of a revolutionary peasant movement made a mockery of Trotsky's and Lenin's conception of the peasants as automatically reactionary. Peasants who made up the vast majority of the USSR's population were seen as a brutalised and unthinking mass who could not organise collectively. When not faced with bayonets and forced requisitions they related naturally towards the workers in the towns and cities. The Makhnovists provided a unifying force encouraging and protecting peasant expropriations of landlords and large farmers (kulaks). They spread the idea of voluntary collectives and tried to make links with urban workers. Their motto was "worker give us your hand".

Around Gulyai-Polye several communes sprang up. These include the originally named communes 1,2 and 3, as well as the "Rosa Luxembourg" commune with 300 members. Several regional congresses of peasants and workers were organised. A general statute supporting the creation of 'free soviets' (elected councils of workers', soldiers' and peasants' delegates) was passed though little could be done towards it's implementation in much of the Ukraine because of the constantly changing battlefront.

The Makhnovists held the cities of Ekaterinoslav and Aleksandrovsk for a few months after their September 1919 defeat of Denikin. In both cities full political rights, freedom of association and press freedom were established. In Ekaterinoslav five political papers appeared, including a Bolshevik one. Several conferences of workers and peasants were held in Aleksandrovsk. Though workers liked the idea of of running their own factories, the nearness of the front and the newness of the idea made them cautious. The railway workers did set up a committee which began investigating new systems of movement and payment but, again, military difficulties prevented further advances. Ekaterinoslav, for example, was under constant bombardment from the Whites just across the river.


REVIEW: HISTORY OF THE MAKHNOVIST MOVEMENT

by Peter Arshinov. (Freedom Press) ٣.50

THE TREATY OF Brest-Litovsk concluded by the Bolsheviks in March 1918, which saw Russia get out of the bloodbath of World War 1, handed most of the Ukraine over to the German and Austro-Hungarian empires. Needless to say, the inhabitants were not consulted. Neither were they too pleased. Various insurgent movements arose and gradually consolidated. The Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine led by Nester Makhno, an anarchist-communist from the village of Gulyai Polye, quickly won the support of the South for it's daring attacks on the Austro-Hungarian puppet, Hetman Skoropadsky and the Nationalist Petliurists.

This book is an extremely valuable eye-witness account from Peter Arshinov - one of the main participants and editor of their paper Put'k Svobode (The Road to Freedom). Arshinov and Makhno were later to draw up the Platform of the Libertarian Communists in during their Paris exile in 1926 (see Workers Solidarity 34).

It may seem strange that the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (its proper title) is constantly referred to as the "Makhnovists". Anarchists are the last people to engage in blind hero-worship. At its height it had 30,000 volunteer combatants under arms. While all were inspired by anarchist ideas, only a small minority had worked-out anarchist views. Through the army's cultural-educational section political discussion and learning was encouraged but the majority of combatants and supporters continued to call themselves "Makhnovists" and to this day the name has stuck.

Arshinov's book mainly consists of a blow-by-blow account of the movement along with some consideration of nationalism and anti-semitism, and short biographies of some of the main Makhnovists. It's an easy non-academic read. However the book is an almost exclusively military account of the movement. Arshinov makes no apologies for this. Of necessity the Makhnovists spent most of their time in military engagements. Over the three years 1918-1921 they had to fight the forces of the Hetman, White Generals Denikin and Wrangel, nationalists like Petliura and Grigor'ev and, of course, the Bolsheviks.

Makhno and his commanders won against odds of 30:1 and more on occasion. One example was on September 25th 1919 at the village of Peregonovka when the Makhnovists after retreating 400 miles found themselves surrounded by Denikin's army. They succeeded in turning Denikin flank with a tiny force of cavalry and in the ensuing panic Denikin's army were routed. This action probably saved Petrograd from the Whites and was one of the most massive defeats inflicted on them.

Of course Makhno's military skill, his use of cavalry and mounted infantry to cover huge distances, isn't directly of relevance to us. What is of interest is how the Makhnovists could fight and win as a revolutionary army with deep roots among the Ukrainian peasants and workers. The insurgent army was an entirely democratic military formation. It's recruits were volunteers drawn from peasants and workers. It elected it's officers and codes of discipline were worked out democratically. Officers could be, and were, recalled by their troops if they acted undemocratically.

Wherever they appeared they were welcomed by the local population who supplied food and lodging as well as information about about enemy forces. The Bolsheviks and Whites were forced to rely on massive campaigns of terror against the peasantry, with thousands being killed and imprisoned.

The speed at which areas changed hands in the Ukraine made it virtually impossible for them to do engage in widescale constructive activity to further the social revolution. "It seemed as though a giant grate composed of bayonets shuttled back and forth across the region , from North to South and back again, wiping out all traces of creative social construction". This excellent metaphor of Arshinov's sums up the difficulty. However, unlike the Bolsheviks, the Makhnovists did not use the war as an excuse for generalised repression and counter-revolution. On the contrary they used every opportunity to drive the revolution forward.

The social revolution

The Makhnovist movement was almost exclusively poor peasant in origin. The very existence of a revolutionary peasant movement made a mockery of Trotsky's and Lenin's conception of the peasants as automatically reactionary. Peasants who made up the vast majority of the USSR's population were seen as a brutalised and unthinking mass who could not organise collectively. When not faced with bayonets and forced requisitions they related naturally towards the workers in the towns and cities. The Makhnovists provided a unifying force encouraging and protecting peasant expropriations of landlords and large farmers (kulaks). They spread the idea of voluntary collectives and tried to make links with urban workers. Their motto was "worker give us your hand".

Around Gulyai-Polye several communes sprang up. These include the originally named communes 1,2 and 3, as well as the "Rosa Luxembourg" commune with 300 members. Several regional congresses of peasants and workers were organised. A general statute supporting the creation of 'free soviets' (elected councils of workers', soldiers' and peasants' delegates) was passed though little could be done towards it's implementation in much of the Ukraine because of the constantly changing battlefront.

The Makhnovists held the cities of Ekaterinoslav and Aleksandrovsk for a few months after their September 1919 defeat of Denikin. In both cities full political rights, freedom of association and press freedom were established. In Ekaterinoslav five political papers appeared, including a Bolshevik one. Several conferences of workers and peasants were held in Aleksandrovsk. Though workers liked the idea of of running their own factories, the nearness of the front and the newness of the idea made them cautious. The railway workers did set up a committee which began investigating new systems of movement and payment but, again, military difficulties prevented further advances. Ekaterinoslav, for example, was under constant bombardment from the Whites just across the river.

Above all this book is a tragic indictment of Bolshevik leadership and mis-rule. The Bolsheviks clung to the theory that the masses couldn't handle socialism. Workers and peasants proved them wrong by continually throwing up their own organs of democratic economic control. If the facts didn't fit the theory then the facts had to be disposed off. Once again impoverished theory led to impoverished practice.

Arshinov documents the re-emergence of minority class rule. He describes the Bolshevik nationalisation of production as with uncanny accuracy as"a new kind of production relations in which economic dependence of the working class is concentrated in a single fist, the State. In essence this in no way improves the situation of the working class".

The Bolsheviks did realise the political significance of the Makhnovists. Any autonomous movement posing the idea of direct economic control and management by workers and peasants was a political threat. From 1917 onwards the Bolsheviks responded to such threats in one way, physical annihilation.

This book explodes the long list of falsehoods and myths about the Makhnovists. It serves as further evidence (is any more needed. ) of the authoritarian role of the Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution. Most of all, it serves as an inspiration to all serious class struggle anarchists. It poses clearly the need for anarchists to organise and win the battle of ideas in the working class. This is how we can finally begin to fight to make anarchism a reality.


"The Struggle Against The State" And Other Essays

Nestor Makhno was the leader of a libertarian peasant and worker army and insurrection in the Ukraine which successfully fought Ukrainian nationalists, the Whites, the Bolsheviks and the bourgeoisie and put anarchism into practice in the years following the Russian Revolution.

Makhno was a committed anarchist who had spent years in Russian prisons for his political activities. Released from jail by the February revolution he returned to his village of Gulai-Polye and threw himself into organising unions, communes and soviets.

During the Russian civil-war he proved himself to be a brilliant military commander, whose partisans saved the Red Army from crushing military defeat at the hands of the Whites. When the White threat had been removed, the Bolshevik State turned on the Machnovshchina and eventually defeated them and their revolutionary achievements.

The history of the Machnovshchina has been consistently distorted by the Soviet state and its apologists. This collection of essays and articles, appearing for the first time in English, and written while Makhno was in exile in Paris in the twenties, rebuts these distortions and demonstrate Makhnos principled and intelligent espousal of anarchism.

The themes he covers include: the Russian Revolution the Makhnovist insurgency the national question in the Ukraine the Makhnovshchina and anti-semitism the Kronstadt revolt the Bolsheviks proletarian power soviet power and anarchist organisation.

The Struggle Against the State and other Essays

The Short Cut Solution Syndrome

A frequently proposed short cut solution to exerting anarchist influence amongst diverse social sectors is the organisation of all self proclaimed "anarchist" forces/tendencies into one body. Particularly, following the Bolshevik Party Coup in October 1917 during the Russian Revolution, discussion of such formulae was a major feature of debate in Anarchist circles in Europe, particularly amongst the Russian anarchist exile diaspora. Associated with such anarchist organisation building schemes is the neglect of creating workers economic combative organisations and the elaboration and pursuit of an industrial policy to achieve such bodies.

This intellectual ferment amongst anarchists crystalised into two currents - adherents of the Arshinov programme who subscribed to a centralised anarchist party and the "Syntheticists" who sought a looser formation, to organise all anarchist tendencies/groupings. Both currents exacerbated anarchism's marginality to the workers movement already ensured by the rise of Leninism/Stalinism.

An important theme of Makhno's essays in this volume under review is his emphasis upon "organising" the "anarchist" movement ignoring the necessity of building workers self managed economic combative organisations and their organs of self, defence and education.

The Anarcho-Syndicalist Task

Associated with the formation of such bodies must be the crystalisation and development of the anarcho-syndicalist current in the form of propaganda and agitational groupings. The central task of such organised units being to assist workers to self-organise and pursue direct action on the job via such activity as raising worker morale, facilitating communication amongst workers, exposing the role of management collaborators, fighting speedups/harassment, etc.

Progress in this work outside revolutionary periods must be the result of long term activity via gradual, educational work, the building of industrial papers, networks and groups.

Rather than offering a short cut to long term serious work, Makhno's proposal and that of other Arshinov programme adherents, of uniting all differing anarchist tendencies in one centralised organisation would certainly produce a nursery of schisms/endless infighting ensuring the impossibility of the pursuit of any coherent industrial policy. Certainly any such "anarchist" vanguard party would be no match for the Stalinist parties of the 1920's and 1930's during which the Arshinov Programme was discussed.

Revolutionary Discipline

A key aspect of Makhno's concept of an anarchist party is its practice of "revolutionary discipline". For anarchists, the basis of self discipline so important for revolutionary initiatives and effective long term work, should stem from self-education and associated strategic and policy agreement. For Makhno, in his essay on this topic, collective discipline is an important requirement, apparently given his vanguard party enthusiasm and the necessity of the party elite who hold the party executive positions to have their directives implemented.

In conclusion, certainly the unique circumstances of the Russian Revolution - the relative undevelopment of the syndicalist movement, and anarchism generally, due to late industrialisation, inadequate outside support, czarist repression, etc, and the disarray of revolutionary anarchism/syndicalism in much of the West during the years of Makhno's exile in the 20's, 30's, given the rise of Leninism/Stalinism, explain his enthusiasm for the anarchist party panacea. On another level, his own peasant background and the peasant basis of his movement, illuminate his neglect of syndicalist organisation in his writings. Whilst the biting rhetoric of essays which no doubt was so important in inspiring his forces during the Russian Revolution, blur the misconceptions he spreads which can only add to the confusion of activists and their departure into organisational blind alleys.

HISTORY OF THE MAKHNOVIST MOVEMENT by Peter Arshinov. (Freedom Press) 5.50

THE TREATY OF Brest-Litovsk concluded by the Bolsheviks in March 1918, which saw Russia get out of the bloodbath of World War 1, handed most of the Ukraine over to the German and Austro- Hungarian empires. Needless to say, the inhabitants were not consulted. Neither were they too pleased. Various insurgent movements arose and gradually consolidated. The Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine led by Nester Makhno, an anarchist-communist from the village of Gulyai Polye, quickly won the support of the South for it's daring attacks on the Austro-Hungarian puppet, Hetman Skoropadsky and the Nationalist Petliurists.

This book is an extremely valuable eye-witness account from Peter Arshinov - one of the main participants and editor of their paper Put'k Svobode (The Road to Freedom). Arshinov and Makhno were later to draw up the Platform of the Libertarian Communists in during their Paris exile in 1926 (see Workers Solidarity 34).

It may seem strange that the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (its proper title) is constantly referred to as the "Makhnovists". Anarchists are the last people to engage in blind hero-worship. At its height it had 30,000 volunteer combatants under arms. While all were inspired by anarchist ideas, only a small minority had worked-out anarchist views. Through the army's cultural-educational section political discussion and learning was encouraged but the majority of combatants and supporters continued to call themselves "Makhnovists" and to this day the name has stuck.

Arshinov's book mainly consists of a blow-by-blow account of the movement along with some consideration of nationalism and anti-semitism, and short biographies of some of the main Makhnovists. It's an easy non-academic read. However the book is an almost exclusively military account of the movement. Arshinov makes no apologies for this. Of necessity the Makhnovists spent most of their time in military engagements. Over the three years 1918-1921 they had to fight the forces of the Hetman, White Generals Denikin and Wrangel, nationalists like Petliura and Grigor'ev and, of course, the Bolsheviks.

Makhno and his commanders won against odds of 30:1 and more on occasion. One example was on September 25th 1919 at the village of Peregonovka when the Makhnovists after retreating 400 miles found themselves surrounded by Denikin's army. They succeeded in turning Denikin flank with a tiny force of cavalry and in the ensuing panic Denikin's army were routed. This action probably saved Petrograd from the Whites and was one of the most massive defeats inflicted on them.

Of course Makhno's military skill, his use of cavalry and mounted infantry to cover huge distances, isn't directly of relevance to us. What is of interest is how the Makhnovists could fight and win as a revolutionary army with deep roots among the Ukrainian peasants and workers. The insurgent army was an entirely democratic military formation. It's recruits were volunteers drawn from peasants and workers. It elected it's officers and codes of discipline were worked out democratically. Officers could be, and were, recalled by their troops if they acted undemocratically.

Wherever they appeared they were welcomed by the local population who supplied food and lodging as well as information about about enemy forces. The Bolsheviks and Whites were forced to rely on massive campaigns of terror against the peasantry, with thousands being killed and imprisoned.

The speed at which areas changed hands in the Ukraine made it virtually impossible for them to do engage in widescale constructive activity to further the social revolution. "It seemed as though a giant grate composed of bayonets shuttled back and forth across the region , from North to South and back again, wiping out all traces of creative social construction". This excellent metaphor of Arshinov's sums up the difficulty. However, unlike the Bolsheviks, the Makhnovists did not use the war as an excuse for generalised repression and counter- revolution. On the contrary they used every opportunity to drive the revolution forward.

THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION

The Makhnovist movement was almost exclusively poor peasant in origin. The very existence of a revolutionary peasant movement made a mockery of Trotsky's and Lenin's conception of the peasants as automatically reactionary. Peasants who made up the vast majority of the USSR's population were seen as a brutalised and unthinking mass who could not organise collectively. When not faced with bayonets and forced requisitions they related naturally towards the workers in the towns and cities. The Makhnovists provided a unifying force encouraging and protecting peasant expropriations of landlords and large farmers (kulaks). They spread the idea of voluntary collectives and tried to make links with urban workers. Their motto was "worker give us your hand".

Around Gulyai-Polye several communes sprang up. These include the originally named communes 1,2 and 3, as well as the "Rosa Luxembourg" commune with 300 members. Several regional congresses of peasants and workers were organised. A general statute supporting the creation of 'free soviets' (elected councils of workers', soldiers' and peasants' delegates) was passed though little could be done towards it's implementation in much of the Ukraine because of the constantly changing battlefront.

The Makhnovists held the cities of Ekaterinoslav and Aleksandrovsk for a few months after their September 1919 defeat of Denikin. In both cities full political rights, freedom of association and press freedom were established. In Ekaterinoslav five political papers appeared, including a Bolshevik one. Several conferences of workers and peasants were held in Aleksandrovsk. Though workers liked the idea of of running their own factories, the nearness of the front and the newness of the idea made them cautious. The railway workers did set up a committee which began investigating new systems of movement and payment but, again, military difficulties prevented further advances. Ekaterinoslav, for example, was under constant bombardment from the Whites just across the river.

Above all this book is a tragic indictment of Bolshevik leadership and mis-rule. The Bolsheviks clung to the theory that the masses couldn't handle socialism. Workers and peasants proved them wrong by continually throwing up their own organs of democratic economic control. If the facts didn't fit the theory then the facts had to be disposed off. Once again impoverished theory led to impoverished practice.

Arshinov documents the re-emergence of minority class rule. He describes the Bolshevik nationalisation of production as with uncanny accuracy as"a new kind of production relations in which economic dependence of the working class is concentrated in a single fist, the State. In essence this in no way improves the situation of the working class".

The Bolsheviks did realise the political significance of the Makhnovists. Any autonomous movement posing the idea of direct economic control and management by workers and peasants was a political threat. From 1917 onwards the Bolsheviks responded to such threats in one way, physical annihilation.

This book explodes the long list of falsehoods and myths about the Makhnovists. It serves as further evidence (is any more needed. ) of the authoritarian role of the Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution. Most of all, it serves as an inspiration to all serious class struggle anarchists. It poses clearly the need for anarchists to organise and win the battle of ideas in the working class. This is how we can finally begin to fight to make anarchism a reality.

THIS ARTICLE ORIGNALLY APPEARED IN THE IRISH ANARCHIST MAGAZINE WORKERS SOLIDARITY

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE WORKERS SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT
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"The Struggle Against The State" And Other Essays

Nestor Makhno was the leader of a libertarian peasant and worker army and insurrection in the Ukraine which successfully fought Ukrainian nationalists, the Whites, the Bolsheviks and the bourgeoisie and put anarchism into practice in the years following the Russian Revolution.

Makhno was a committed anarchist who had spent years in Russian prisons for his political activities. Released from jail by the February revolution he returned to his village of Gulai-Polye and threw himself into organising unions, communes and soviets.

During the Russian civil-war he proved himself to be a brilliant military commander, whose partisans saved the Red Army from crushing military defeat at the hands of the Whites. When the White threat had been removed, the Bolshevik State turned on the Machnovshchina and eventually defeated them and their revolutionary achievements.

The history of the Machnovshchina has been consistently distorted by the Soviet state and its apologists. This collection of essays and articles, appearing for the first time in English, and written while Makhno was in exile in Paris in the twenties, rebuts these distortions and demonstrate Makhnos principled and intelligent espousal of anarchism.

The themes he covers include: the Russian Revolution the Makhnovist insurgency the national question in the Ukraine the Makhnovshchina and anti-semitism the Kronstadt revolt the Bolsheviks proletarian power soviet power and anarchist organisation.
Bibliographical Afterward by Alexandre Skirda


The Truth about Nestor Makhno

Nestor Makhno, for years the leader of the rebel peasantry of the Ukraina, died on July 25 in the Tenon Hospital after long months of illness. His remains were cremated in the Père-Lachaise cemetery, at Paris.

Nestor Makhno was one of the outstanding personalities of the Russian Revolution, a man remarkable in many regards. While still in his teens he became interested in the revolutionary movement and at 17 he was already an active member of an anarchist group in the Ukraina. In 1908 the Tsarist Government condemned him to death, but owing to his youth the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was incarcerated in the notorious Butirki Prison, at Moscow, one of the worst hells of the Russian penal system, where the naturally rebellious spirit of Makhno earned him frequent and severe punishment. In spite of it Nestor succeeded in turning his imprisonment to good account he spent his time in studying and improving the elementary education he had received as a boy. The February Revolution opened the doors of his prison, as it did for thousands of other victims of Tsardom.

Makhno returned to his native Ukraina and there devoted himself to the revolutionary enlightenment of the masses. A splendid organizer and effective agitator, his work speedily showed results. He became particularly popular among the southern peasantry. During the occupation of Ukraina by the German-Austrian forces, Makhno organized very successful guerrilla warfare against the invaders. From a little handful of armed men, who had to procure guns and ammunitions from the enemy, his faithful band constantly grew in numbers and strength, till at one time Makhno’s peasant army consisted of 40,000-60,000 men, including cavalry and artillery. A thorough Anarchist, Makhno waged war against all forces which sought to subject Ukraina to new tyranny and exploitation. For this reason [he fought] the Whites as well as the Bolsheviki when the latter attempted to establish an allegedly “revolutionary” despotism in the South. Makhno clearly distinguished between the interests of the revolution and of the masses as against those of Bolshevik Party rule. He and his povstantsi (rebel peasant) army had for their definite purpose to free Ukraina from the tyranny and government in any form, be it white or red. Makhnovstchina, as the Makhno peasant uprising in Ukraina was called, was a thoroughly libertarian revolutionary movement of the masses in the South of Russia, of utmost significance. Nestor Makhno was the heart and the spirit of that great movement. His great ability as a leader, his personal courage and almost reckless devotion to his anarchist ideal of liberation earned for him the trust, respect and admiration of the Ukrainian masses. His revolutionary integrity and unusual military judgment inspired his army to deeds of almost incredible heroism and self-sacrifice in behalf of the revolutionary cause. His followers christened him “Batko” Makhno (beloved little father), which was the highest expression of popular respect and affection.

But though Makho fought against the establishment of Bolshevik rule in the Ukraina, he never hesitated to come to the aid of the Bolsheviki when the interests of the revolution demanded it. Thus in 1919 the Makhno army practically saved Moscow from being taken by General Denikin when the latter had almost routed the Bolshevik forces. Again in 1920 it was Makhno and his povstantsi who helped in finally defeating Wrangel and his White armies.

The Bolsheviki always appealed to Makhno for aid whenever their own military forces failed to halt the advance of the White enemy. But in spite of being repeatedly saved from destruction by Makhnovtsi, the Bolsheviki continuously planned to annihilate Makhno and his army. True to the psychology of all despotism, the Bolsheviki Government could not tolerate the fact that a large part of Russia – practically the whole of Ukraina – refused to recognise the rule of the Bolsheviki. Fully knowing that Makhno was a true Anarchist who strove to liberate the south from every tyranny, and in spite of the great services done by Makhno’s army to the revolution, the Bolsheviki denounced both Makhno and his peasant followers as bandits and counter-revolutionists. They set a price on Makhno’s head, dead or alive, and even stooped to sending secret emissaries to Makhno’s camp to murder him.

Notwithstanding all the dangers and difficulties of that revolutionary period, and in spite of repeated Bolshevik treachery, Makhno continued for 4 years (1917-1921) loyally to serve the revolutionary cause. He had fought the German invaders and he continued his fight against every reactionary force which sought to subjugate the people of Ukraina, including the armies of Denikin, Skoropadsky, Petlura, Grigorief and others.

Whites as well as the Bolsheviki hated Makhno and his peasant army with a deadly and irreconcilable hatred. Justly so, for was not the very existence of the Makhno movement a challenge and a defiance to all governments and oppression? In the denunciation of Makhno the Bolsheviki went even further than the whites. Secret conspiracies and open military attacks failed to destroy Makhno and his followers, the Bolsheviki decided to kill him morally. It was they who FIRST SPREAD THE LIE that Makhno was a pogromshtchik, a Jew baiter, and that his army was guilty of pogroms against the Jews. But the people of Ukraina knew better than that. They knew that no Bolshevik general ever protected the Jews against pogroms with the energy and zeal of Makhno. They knew that Makhno was an Anarchist and internationalist, and that he was ruthless in suppressing the least sign of racial persecution. Some of his closest friends were Jews, and a number of well-known Russian-Jewish Anarchists were his most trusted advisors and members of the educational department of the Makhno army. It is true that occasional, though very rare cases of assaults on Jews had happened in the territory occupied by Makhno’s forces. But in every case it was proven that such excesses were committed by individual members of the army, and that Makhno was merciless in punishing such offenders. In this connection it is well to remember that the Bolshevik red Army was also not free from such excesses, yet no one would think of accusing the leaders of the Bolshevik army of encouraging pogroms. As to Makhno, he personally and publicly shot Grigorief, the chief of a White band of notorious pogromers, as an object lesson for his entire army and the entire people of Ukraina.

A true anarchist, a great revolutionary mass leader was lost to us by the death of Nestor Makhno. He died, poor, alone and almost deserted far away from the people he so loved and served so faithfully. But his spirit always remained with the masses of Russia, and with his last breath he confidently hoped that some day the oppressed, much-suffering people will rise in their might to sweep away forever the tyranny and despotism of Bolshevism.

Published by the Libertarian groups of Toronto (1934)

Makhno’s The Struggle Against the State and Other Essays is available from the KSL .


Nestor Makhno Anarchist General

Thirty year old anarchist terrorist and Tsarist inmate Nestor Makhno returned to his Ukrainian village and formed one of the most amazing armies in history.

Born in the small Ukrainian village of Gulyai Pole (also translated Hulyai Pole or Huliaipole) in October 27 1888 (or 1889!) was peasant Nestor Ivanovich Makhno. The fifth of five brothers his father died while he was still an infant and Makhno worked every day after his seventh birthday as a Sheppard, farmhand, and general laborer to help support his impoverished family. He attended local schools for four years off and on as his only education. The 1905 Revolution found Makhno a nihilistic teenager with nothing to lose and he fell in with an anarchist peasant terrorist cell. By 1908, captured by the efficient Tsarist Okhrana secret police, he was sentenced to hang. His death penalty commuted to life imprisonment, Makhno spent the last decade of the Tsar’s rule in the notorious Butyrki prison in Moscow. There he learned political theory and literature while spending extended periods under enhanced discipline and contracting tuberculosis. Years of poor diet as well as the ailment contributed to his small frame and poor health.

Revolution of 1917 and the Peasant Uprisings

When the Tsar abdicated March 15, 1917, one of the first things that the Provisional Government did was grant an amnesty to all political prisoners. Makhno, who had spent his entire adult life in prison, was now free. Soon after the Russian Revolutions in 1917 in which the Tsar and then within eight months the democratic Provisional Government were overthrown, the countryside caught fire. Generations of peasants, without the gendarme or military to worry about any longer, took to the farms of more wealthy pomeshchiks’ (landowners’) homesteads and promptly burned them out. Small groups of peasants throughout the Ukraine would assemble, arm themselves and pursue guerilla warfare on the most basic scale. These detachments, typically from 20-50 strong would attack landowners, members of the State government, wayward officers, and almost every other outsider that would pass through their village. When Bolshevik agitators or commissars came through the village, they would also find themselves murdered in deeply pornographic ways and hung from trees next to White agitators and German agents. These peasant anarchists were nothing if not equal opportunity.

Makhno’s homecoming and the birth of the Black Flag Army

Nestor Makhno returned to Gulyai Pole from imprisonment in Moscow during the spring of 1917 and immediately began to direct this peasant movement. Makhno formed a peasants union, helped reapportion the estates of landowners and became a public leader. He inflamed the masses of disaffected and under his Black Flag banner and Black Cross symbol began building an army. His first task was to disarm local former Tsarist army units and leaderless Cossacks. He then distributed some 250,000 rubles found in local banks to the peasant committees. Thus armed and paid, his army became known as the Makhnovshchina after their leader. The Reds and Whites often simply called them ‘The Greens”.


On ‘Makhno and Memory’: 5 Questions with Historian Sean Patterson

Sean Patterson is a doctoral student at the University of Alberta he is currently researching historical memory in Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region. His new book Makhno and Memory “brings a vast array of Makhnovist and Mennonite sources into dialogue” and “presents new ways of thinking about Makhno and his movement.” Makhno and Memory is available now.

1) I suppose some readers might wonder about your surname, Patterson. What is your connection to the Mennonites?

My surname often leads to such questions. My father, of a Protestant Irish-Canadian background, converted as a young adult to the Mennonite Brethren Church. When I was a child he was a pastor at an MB church in Winnipeg’s West End but left the Church when I was eight years old. However, I was raised in an Anabaptist spiritual community surrounded by friends largely from Mennonite backgrounds. On the other side, my mother is from a German Baptist family that immigrated to Canada from Ukraine in 1929. Interestingly, in 1915 they were deported to Siberia as part of the Tsarist anti-German land liquidation laws, where they were taken in by a sympathetic Mennonite family. While I don’t identify as a “Mennonite” per se I do have a deep personal history with and respect for Mennonite culture, faith, and history.

2) When did you first become aware of Nestor Makhno?

I first learned of Nestor Makhno as an undergraduate history student at Saint Francis Xavier University. I was very interested in leftist opposition to Bolshevism and my honours advisor suggested I read The Unknown Revolution by Volin. This book was my first exposure to the Makhnovist movement. Volin, an intellectual anarchist and Makhnovist participant, paints a largely positive picture of the movement as a liberatory force of peasant Ukraine. However, when I returned home for Christmas and told my friends and family about my studies, I was confronted by a radically different image of Makhno as a mass murderer of Mennonites. I also discovered a close friend’s relative had directly fought the Makhnovists as a leader in the Mennonite Selbstschutz (self-defence). These holiday conversations initiated my research into the Mennonite perspective on Makhno.

3) What do you hope Mennonite readers will learn about Nestor Makhno from your book?

In my book I describe how Makhno has been employed by authors as a metonym, alternately for Mennonite suffering and Makhnovist heroism. It is my hope that readers, both Mennonite and otherwise, will be challenged to think about Makhno outside a mythologized bandit/hero binary. I want readers to reflect on Makhno’s psychological and ideological complexity as well as his deep contradictions and relationship to justice and terror. Moreover, it is my hope readers can move beyond Makhno in certain regards by situating him and his movement within the historical socio-economic environment. In this shift away from Makhno as metonym, I hope readers will more broadly meditate on how Imperial Russia’s unresolved issues of land hunger and wealth inequality contributed to the tragedy of Makhnovist-Mennonite violence.

4) Your book analyzes both Mennonite and Makhnovist sources about Nestor Makhno, who often have very different takes on the man. How do you, as a historian, come to something resembling “the truth” when the narratives seem to contradict?

The history of Makhno and his movement is rife with myths, legends, and contradictory narratives. In the search for solid historical facts, I was more often than not left with spectral traces and many false leads. However, when collectively placed alongside each other a coherent picture emerges. To determine the reality of this or that event and its sequence, I cross-referenced as many sources from as many perspectives as possible. This was one reason why I felt it was critical to bring Makhnovist and Mennonite sources into dialogue with each other. Previous histories on the Makhnovist movement largely ignored, or were unaware, of Mennonite sources. I am also fortunate that since the fall of the Soviet Union a great amount of Makhnovist archival material has become accessible, which can now be compared against the memoir literature. This process of triangulating a wide variety of sources was especially important in reconstructing the events leading up to the Eichenfeld massacre. Nevertheless this type of historical “truth” is, and should always be, subject to revision as new material is discovered and integrated into the source base.

However, even if certain historical facts can be ascertained they are unavoidably embedded within narratives that take on storied plot-structures. How these narratives take shape and the truth claims they make are contingent on the narrator’s personal and collective beliefs and identities, access to information, and the genre they are writing. Therefore, the answer to a question such as was Makhno a bandit-terrorist or a revolutionary hero is very much dependent on any one author’s subjective experience of revolutionary Ukraine.

I was particularly interested in how Makhnovists and Mennonites narrativized their relationship with violence in the Civil War. In this regard, I draw attention to narrative patterns present in and across Makhnovist and Mennonite sources. For example, I found evidence of each side’s dominant narrative about Makhno reflected within the other’s literature. In this way, there is an unexpected overlap between Makhnovist and Mennonite sources at the narrative level despite approaching Makhno from very different perspectives. What emerges is a portrait of Makhno as a person committed to a specific type of revolutionary justice but simultaneously always at risk of slipping into wanton terror. He is psychologically complicated and paradoxical as is the Makhnovist movement at large. Intensively working with such apparent narrative contradictions assisted me in reaching what I describe as a multi-perspectival interpretation of the Makhnovist-Mennonite conflict.

5) What is your favourite memory or moment from visiting the Zaporizhia region of Ukraine?

It is very hard to pick out one memory, but visiting the Eichenfeld massacre memorial in modern-day Novopetrivka was emotionally impactful. More than the memorial itself was the fact that the Ukrainian locals maintained its grounds and regularly laid flowers and wreaths. I thought this was a perfect example of present-day historical reconciliation. Another memory that has stuck with me was when I visited Nestor Makhno’s hometown, Huliaipole. I noticed my driver was taking pictures of a large bronze statue and I asked him his opinion of Makhno. He simply replied, “He is a hero of the working class.” These two memories very much stand together in my mind.


ITHA-IATH

Nestor Makhno

Whenever a revolution breaks out – and regardless of its character – (the most important point is that broad masses of workers and peasants should have a hand in it) and its guides, whether a compact group or a scattering of individuals, enjoying a special authority in the eyes of the workers, place themselves above these masses and do not march in step with them and do not earn their trust, waiting for something out of the ordinary to happen or even, worse still, seek to subordinate them by trying to point them along the “only” path to follow, well, the revolution fails to develop thoroughly enough and fails to resolve or even correctly formulate the attendant problems in need of resolution. Then it cannot devise new and additional methods of social action to thwart its enemies and meet the pressing needs: whereupon it is induced to adopt vague directions and gets lost amid their fatal zigzags. At that point, it either perishes under the blows of those against whom it is targeted, or it changes tack, doubles back on its steps and is wound up in accordance with the interests of its internal enemies.

Often, all these considerations have been decisive during the revolutions which have occurred thus far, both in Europe and elsewhere. The same thing has happened in Spain. True, the Spanish revolution of 1931 stands apart from lots of others on account of its very specific features. It was not unleashed by means of a revolutionary whirlwind in the towns and countryside, but rather by the ballot box. As it proceeded, thanks to the actions of its left-wing elements, it broke free of those initial moorings and entered the vast precincts of the liberating social action of the toilers. Whilst it nonetheless finished to the advantage of authoritarian elements, and proved tragic for the fate of the workers and many revolutionaries, as well as for what these had managed to achieve, the responsibility for that lies largely with the Spanish left-wing political groupings. That unfortunate denouement can be chalked up to the authoritarian and the anti-authoritarian socialists, which is to say to our libertarian communist and anarcho-syndicalist comrades.

The responsibility of the right-wing state socialists consists of their having been tied from the outset to the bourgeois party of Alcala Zamora. True, the grassroots militants of the party, especially the workers, did not want to hear talk of this policy, especially as they were not aware of the hidden negotiations of their party’s “bigwigs” with the bourgeoisie, negotiations directed at their assuming joint power, albeit at the price of sacrificing the revolution. It was only when the socialist workers found themselves under questioning from other workers about their party’s policy, and had no idea how to reply, that their leaders hypocritically strutted like peacocks before the bourgeoisie, striking a little fear into its representatives by declaring themselves ready to seize power alone with the aid of the workers only. This double dealing by the socialist leaders regarding the revolution, mounted despite the pretenses by taking cognizance of the aspirations of the workers as represented by other social revolutionary organizations, nonetheless sowed the most utter confusion in the minds and understanding of the workers as far as the developing revolution was concerned, and in the last analysis it eroded the best and most combative features of their struggle, everything that had enabled them to score a complete and enthusiastic victory over the monarchists and the king.

The Spanish toilers sensed instinctively that the time had come for new and free forms of social living. The right-wing socialist “bigwigs” pretended outwardly to congratulate themselves on this, but in fact and in secret they worked to disappoint these aspirations, and in so doing they did enormous harm to the first steps of the revolution.

The guilt of the Bolshevik-communists – they who are “further to the left than the left” of the state socialists, so to speak – resides in their having done nothing on behalf of the cause of real emancipation of the workers, but instead only for their own sordid and petty partisan interests. They saw the revolution as a means whereby they might, at their ease, stuff proletarian heads with the most demagogic promises and then, having sucked them into the authoritarian vortex, use them bodily to hoist their filthy party dictatorship into position over the country. When they realized that their demagogic ploys were making no headway with the toilers, they suborned or deceived a few adventurist elements into organizing violent demonstrations, whilst drawing the unarmed workers into them. These demonstrations, however, brought them no success either. Blood flowed freely during these workers’ defeats, dreamt up by people who kept well out of the action. All of which merely strengthened the coalition between the right wing socialists and Alcala Zamora and the bourgeoisie, bolstering it not just against the left’s “would-be dictators,” but also against the revolution generally. As for the Bolshevik “communists,” they belong to the same Marxist-Leninist school as their Russian counterparts: they are nothing more than Jesuits and traitors to all who struggle against Capital and for the emancipation of the proletariat whilst refusing to pass between their Caudine Forks. During the Spanish revolution of 1931, they were not strong enough – and still are not – to display their treachery openly. Even so, they have successfully mounted several provocations and peddled calumnies, not so much against the bourgeoisie as against their political adversaries on the left. That fact partly accounts for the difficulty the revolution has experienced in ridding itself of bourgeois thinking and bourgeois leaders, for it has had to fight simultaneously against the demoralization peddled by these “leftist” traitors. The latter operate on the behalf of their dictatorship and not for the sake of real social freedom, which blends the solidarity and equality of opinion of all who have made the radical break with the onerous past of exploitation and who are striding right now towards a new world.

Spanish libertarian communists and anarcho-syndicalists have a particular responsibility in the shaping of events, above all because they departed from their basic principles in taking an active part in that revolution, so as to wrest the initiative from the liberal bourgeoisie, no doubt, but whilst remaining, regardless, on the latter’s parasitical class terrain. They have, for one thing, taken absolutely no notice of the requirements of our age, and for another, they have under-estimated the scale of the resources available to the bourgeoisie in containing and eliminating all who create trouble for it.

What has stopped anarchists from putting their beliefs into practice, so as to turn a bourgeois republican revolution into a social revolution?

In the first place, the absence of a specific and detailed program has prevented them from achieving unity of action, the unity that determines the expansion of the movement during a period of revolution and of its influence over everything around it.

Secondly, our Spanish comrades, like many comrades elsewhere, regard anarchism as an itinerant church of freedom. . . That attitude regularly prevents them from arriving at the desired times and places at the working structures essential to the economic and social organization whose duty it is to weave multiple connections between the everyday and global struggle of the toilers. This has thwarted them, on this occasion, from accomplishing the historical task that devolves upon anarchism in time of revolution. For all the prestige they enjoyed in the eyes of the workers in the country, Spanish libertarian communists and anarcho-syndicalists have failed to tilt in the direction of revolution the minds of masses dithering between their sympathy with revolution and a petit-bourgeois outlook. They ought to have been converted into activists for the spread and defense of the revolution. Instead of which, feeling themselves surrounded by relative freedom, the anarchists, like so many petit-bourgeois, have indulged themselves in interminable discussions. By word of mouth and in writing, they have expounded absolutely freely on all manner of topics: they have held rallies galore, with fine professions of faith, but they have overlooked the fact that those who supplanted the king spent that time entrenching their power to the best of their ability.

Unfortunately, in this regard, not a thing was done at the appropriate time, even though that was as vital as could be, given that the occasion was ideal and the circumstances favorable. At that point, the Spanish anarchists had real opportunities – a lot more than all the other revolutionary groupings in the country – to settle in practice upon a strategy that would have brought the revolution a step closer. The CNT expanded its membership at a dizzying rate and became, for all who labor, the spokesman and the forum through which the toilers’ age-old hopes might at last find expression.

In order to play up this active role of our movement even more, the bourgeoisie and its power should have been felled and its influence upon the revolutionary movement eradicated utterly. Does this mean that our Spanish comrades achieved nothing along these lines during that revolutionary year of 1931? Certainly not. They did all in their power to convert the political revolution into social revolution. Heroically, they shouldered the sacrifices of that, and even now that the revolution has been smothered, many of them are still enduring the rigors of repression. However, all such sacrifices have been in vain, to the extent that they were not made for the sake of suitable objectives. And all, let me repeat, because anarchism possesses no hard and fast program, because the anarchist activities that have been carried out have been, and are still, conducted amidst the most utter dispersion, rather than springing from a tactical unity determined and enlightened by a theoretical unity, by a single shared goal. It is for these specific reasons that the Spanish anarchists have not been able to bring their endeavors to fruition and it is this that induced the ones whose convictions were weakest to issue the celebrated “Manifesto of the Thirty” – quite ill-timed – in the name of its authors’ “heightened sense of responsibility.” The most determined and intrepid militants, the ones that do not merely peddle their ideas but also go to the lengths of dying for them, those ones languish in filthy dungeons, in the holds of vessels deporting them to distant shores, to hostile lands.

Such, in broad outline, are the omissions, errors and shortcomings fatal for revolutionary activity that have been perpetrated by Spanish leftist groupings, at a decisive moment that comes but rarely in history and which has brought the Spanish revolution to its present straits. All those groups therefore carry the responsibility for the situation.

What conclusions the statist socialists, they who can do nothing better than play the lackeys of the bourgeoisie, whilst seeking to make lackeys of their own of other revolutionaries, will draw from this I cannot tell. As far as revolutionary anarchists are concerned, I believe they have food for thought here, if they are to be spared in the future [whether in Spain or elsewhere] from a repetition of these same mistakes: finding themselves in the revolution’s advanced outposts without access to the resources necessary for defense of the masses’ revolutionary gains against the bitter onslaughts of their bourgeois and authoritarian socialist foes.

Obviously, revolutionary anarchists must not have recourse to the methods of Bolsheviks as some have occasionally been tempted to do, even to the extent of urging the establishment of “close contact” with the Bolshevik state (as the “innovator” Arshinov has lately argued). Revolutionary anarchists have nothing to look for in Bolshevism: they have a revolutionary theory of their own that is indeed very rich, and which lays down tasks utterly at odds with those of the Bolsheviks in the life and struggle of the toiling classes. They cannot reconcile their goals with the goals of Pan-Bolshevism, which thrusts itself so savagely, by ruble and bayonet, into the lives of the toilers in the USSR, deliberately ignoring their rights and turning them into compliant slaves, incapable of independent reflection, or thinking for themselves about their welfare and the welfare of the other toilers in the world.

No matter how devoted it may be to the movement’s cause, no anarchist individual or group can carry out the tasks described all unaided. All attempts made thus far testify to that. Why is understandable: no individual or group can, unaided, unite our movement, nationally or internationally. These mammoth and crucial tasks can only be accomplished by an international libertarian think-tank. That is what I told Rudolf Rocker and Alexander Berkman in Berlin nearly seven years ago now. And I reaffirm it all the more staunchly now, now that many libertarians openly acknowledge – after a whole series of fruitless attempts to devise something practical – that there is no other way of arriving at a program shaped by and attuned to our times and our resources, than by the calling of a preparatory conference, (involving those militants most active and committed in matters theoretical and practical alike) the task of which would be formulate the theses that would respond to the anarchist movement’s vital issues, theses thrashed out in anticipation of an international anarchist congress. The latter in turn would develop and complement these theses. In the wake of that congress, these theses would amount to a definite program and solid reference point for our movement, a reference point with a validity in every country. Which would rescue our movement from reformist and muddle-headed deviations and invest it with the necessary potency to become the vanguard of contemporary revolutions.

True, this is no easy undertaking: however, determination and solidarity from those who can and who wish to carry it off will greatly facilitate this endeavor. Let this undertaking commence, for our movement cannot but gain by it!
Long live the fraternal and shared hopes of all Anarchist militants that they may see the realization of that grand undertaking – the endeavor of our movement and of the social revolution for which we struggle!

France 1931
Probuzhdeniye N°30-31, January-February 1933, pp. 19-23

From “The Struggle Against the State and other essays” by Nestor Makhno
Edited by Alexandre Sirda
Translated by Paul Sharkey
Published by AK Press
Source: Spunk Press


Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno

"Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno" is a 12-part mini-series about the life of one of the most important persons of the Russian Civil war. He was a Russian anarchist and the commander of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (the Black Guard, Makhnovshchina). He fought against Germans, Whites, Reds and Ukrainian nationalists. He tried to establish free, fair peasant republic. During Soviet era state propaganda tried to show Makhno as a gang leader, who just robbed peasants, killed them and so on. In fact he and his army played a large role in the Civil war - his raid has deranged the White army's attack on Moscow (after that Reds had began a wide-scale counterattack) and his army was in first rows broke through Perekop (the operation which was later declared as Red army triumph without any mention about the Black Army). His army was the first who used tachankas. This tactic has become a prototype of the Deep battle theory used during WWII by tank armies.


Watch the video: Ukrainian Anarchist Nestor Makhno vs Capitalist (January 2022).